Angola: Children as young as 6 face accusations of witchcraft

Angola was recently shaken by terrible news of abandoned, ill-treated, tortured and killed children accused of witchcraft. One of the recent cases was in the municipality of Sambizanga in Luanda. According to local newspapers, the National Police rescued dozens of children who were locked inside a room where a bonfire was lit burning jindungo (a type of chilli). One of them faces the danger of losing an arm due to gangrene caused by blade cuts. The abusers believe that through this method the evil living in the children's bodies can be released.

This evil practice is usually promoted by members of certain “churches”, which in most cases are illegally open to the public. Driven by a mystical, malicious, ignorant spirit or simply by the desire to get rid of one more mouth to feed, family members are primarily responsible for such attitudes. By believing in witchcraft, they condemn their sons, nephews or stepchildren to appalling suffering when something goes wrong in their homes.

Blog Angola Saudades brings one of these sad cases to light:

“Makiesse é sobrevivente de um fenómeno perturbante que surge em Angola nos ultimos anos: acusações de feitiçaria contra crianças acompanhadas de maus tratos, abandono e nalguns casos, a morte. A madrasta acusou Makiesse de ser feiticeiro e ter provocado a doença que matou o seu pai. Não podia comer com a família, dormia na latrina, levava porrada diariamente e era forçado a rituais de purificação que mais parecem tortura – jejum, golpes e reclusão. Makiesse tinha seis anos. “Eu dizia que eu não sou feiticeiro, que talvez o feiticeiro usa a minha cara à noite. Mas ninguém acreditava”, conta Makiesse ao PlusNews. Um dia os familiares deitaram-lhe petróleo. O tio impediu que o queimassem vivo. Cedo, tirou-o sorrateiramente do Uíge para a capital Luanda a 345 quilómetros. Deixou-o num centro da igreja católica que abriga crianças de rua. Isso foi há três anos. Makiesse apenas foi visitado duas vezes pelo irmão mais velho”.

“Makiesse is a survivor of a disturbing phenomenon that has appeared in Angola in recent years: accusations of witchcraft against children followed by abuse, neglect and in some cases, death. Makiesse's stepmother accused him of witchcraft and of having caused the disease that killed his father. He could not eat with his family, he had to sleep in the toilet, he was beaten every day and was forced through purification rituals that seemed more like torture – fasting, punches and incarceration. Makiesse was six. “I would say that I am not a witch, the witch might have used my face at night. But no one believed me,” said Makiesse to PlusNews. One day the family threw petrol on him. His uncle prevented him from burning alive. He sneaked him from Uige to the capital Luanda, 345 km away. He left him at a Catholic church that shelters street children. This was three years ago. Makiesse has only been visited twice by his older brother.”

A few years ago, a study on the impact of such practices against children from the perspective of human rights’ protection, carried out by the National Institute of Children (INAC), was released. The study reported that such charges against children became common at the end of the 90's, with no relation to local peoples’ historical traditions. According to the study, the appearance for this type of attitude is due to the changes in family structure and in the meaning of kinship relationships, such as maternal ties and their respective connection with taking care of children.

In Angola, accusations of witchcraft and abuse against children are deemed valid, which minimizes the seriousness of cruel acts carried out by families in the eyes of society. After being charged, children rarely reintegrate themselves within their families because of stigma and discrimination. This brings us to another issue: the increase of street children. Feeling uncomfortable under accusing glances from relatives and neighbors, they opt to live on their own on the streets of this country.

Noticias Cristãs [pt] blog echoes another case:

“Doze crianças acusadas de feitiçaria e abandonadas pelos seus familiares foram retiradas das ruas de Luanda pelas Irmãs da Congregação do Bom Pastor. As histórias contadas pelas crianças que fizeram das ruas da capital a sua morada durante algum tempo, comoveram as freiras que decidiram começar um processo de nova vida para os menores. O caso mais recente é de uma menina de 11 anos acusada de ter morto a própria mãe usando feitiço. A superiora da congregação conta a história: “O pai abandonou a criança na rua e na altura foi interceptado pela polícia porque batia nela e ele disse que a filha tem 11 anos e é feiticeira. Disse que comeu a mãe e que recebeu o feitiço do Congo e que ele poderia ter a mesma sorte e então decidiu abandonar a menina. A criança foi levada para casa das irmãs no Palanca, por alguém que a encontrou a chorar na rua. Fui ter à casa onde eles moravam e encontrei alguns familiares, mas todos eles confirmaram que a menina é feiticeira. Conversei com eles, tentei convencê-los mas não houve maneira e disseram que era melhor não deixar a menina com eles porque estava reconhecida como feiticeira”.

“Twelve children accused of witchcraft and abandoned by their families were removed from the streets of Luanda by Congregação do Bom Pastor's sisters. The stories told by children who lived on the capital streets for some time moved the nuns, who decided to begin a process of new life for the children. The most recent case is of a 11 year old girl accused of having killed her mother by using a spell. The congregation's superior tells the story: “Her father left the child in the street and at the time he was stopped by police because he had beaten her up. He said that his daughter was 11 years and a witch. He said she had eaten her mother, had received Congolese spell and that he could have the same luck, so he decided to abandon the girl. The child was taken to the sisters’ home in Palanca by someone who found her crying in the streets. I went to the house where they lived and met some relatives, but they all confirmed that the girl is a witch. I spoke with them, tried to convince them but there was no way and I was told it would be better not to leave the girl with them because they recognized her as a witch.”

The government and civil organizations have launched campaigns to raise awareness and alerts to prevent abuse against children. Other projects such as sheltering centers and legal accountability for such abuse are two other important developments being carried out by authorities.

Hopefully, the situation will change completely. We hope children will be able to enjoy  their childhood peacefully in Angola without losing hope of a better life. Hopefully, Angolan society will stand up with determination in this fight that has already crossed national boundaries. We hope parents and relatives of victims of abuse are held accountable and brought to court as a sign of warning to others.


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